On Aug. 5, 2005, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that, for the first time in league history, the sport’s biggest spectacle would take place in a non-NBA city. The 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend was set for Las Vegas and the Thomas & Mack Center. While the festivities were highly anticipated, that didn’t last long.
Now, 10 years later, there is plenty to reflect on with the event and, given that a decade has passed, we can look back with a combination of fondness and confusion as to what transpired.
“I don’t care if you were black or white, it was an intimidating environment. You always felt like anything was a possibility. And I don’t think white people saying that is an expression of racism. There was loud cussing, they were loudly using the N-word, smoking lots of marijuana, talking disrespectfully of anybody they felt like. You just felt like anything could happen.”
Jason Whitlock, then employed as a columnist for the Kansas City Star before moving on to other things, reflected on his time in ‘Sin City’ that weekend in the Las Vegas Sun.
The “anything could happen” vibe was recounted by various media members, fans and even players in reflecting on the game, especially through the lens of a crime increase unlike anything the NBA has been associated with over a three-day period.
Specifics vary based on source, but the consensus remains that more than 300 people were arrested over the course of the long weekend, with that number reflecting only the increase from an “average” weekend in Las Vegas. Beyond that, more than 100 fugitives of justice descended on Las Vegas and were apprehended, adding fuel to the fire.
Terry Lanni, then a chief executive for MGM Mirage Inc., told ESPN that “the gang-bangers and others who came for purposes other than attending the game, they weren’t very good for Las Vegas.” Furthermore, one of the gaming industry’s biggest fish flatly indicated that, if it was up to him, the NBA would not expand to the city, saying “Mr. Stern can keep his basketball franchises out of Las Vegas as far as I’m concerned.”
Still, there were unquestioned positives to the event and they began before the NBA world even descended on Nevada.
In the original announcement letting the world know that All-Star Weekend was coming, the league was already spinning the public relations aspect in an optimistic light:
Not all of the action will take place on the hardwood as the NBA will partner with schools and community-based organizations in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas to showcase the League’s on-going commitment to the community. Highlighting the NBA All-Star 2007 activities in the community will be the NBA All-Star Legacy Project and a series of events with current and former NBA and WNBA players reaching out to youth-serving organizations.
While the great majority of the focus was on the negative aspects of the non-basketball festivities, the league did follow through with good work in the community, and in the days since, the NBA has perhaps become even more well-known for its community involvement.
On the basketball floor, the weekend produced quite a bit of intrigue as well.
Kobe Bryant led the Western Conference to a 153-132 victory while being named the MVP, and before he was the “Black Mamba,” Bryant was outstanding with 31 points. On the East side, LeBron James (his name sounds familiar) finished with 28 points and the game was quite entertaining before a crowd of more than 15,000 in the Thomas & Mack Center. In fact, there was enough buzz surrounding the game itself that Las Vegas remains the title holder when it comes to the highest ticket price in event history (per Forbes), with an average cost of $2,546 for entry.